Nova Scotia Families Demand a Better Back-to-School Plan

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August 22, 2020
Re: Nova Scotia Families Demand a Better Back-to-School Plan

To: Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Nova Scotia Public Health, Honourable Zach Churchill, Dr. Robert Strang, and Premier Stephen McNeil
The health and safety of teachers, families, and students are of utmost importance and we must collectively ensure the safety of everyone, including the most vulnerable communities across the province.
As families and parents, students, and concerned citizens, we demand a clear and concise back-to-school plan that meets all federal public health guidelines. The plan, as is, is unacceptable.
The government—in transparent and public consultation with teachers, staff, families, and students, from Pre-Primary through Grade 12— MUST ensure and clearly demonstrate that proper risk mitigation strategies to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 are in place before returning to school.
Opening schools without a clear plan in place, and at full capacity, is unsafe. It is your responsibility to ensure the schools are opened in a way that meets current public health guidelines and to provide a safe working and learning environment for all employees, students, and their families.
With reference to federal public health guidelines [1]and guidelines released by SickKids Hospital[2], we demand the following:
1. A clear and detailed plan and budget that meets all current federal public health guidelines. In particular, we require a plan that does not offload these responsibilities to individual schools and teachers without a budget and supports to do so.
2. The option of fully online learning for ALL grades as well as a hybrid/blended learning plan for Grades 7 through 12 that includes a reduction of class and school capacity to 50%  at any given time. The rental of additional locations (or another acceptable plan) to reduce Pre-Primary through Grade 6 class sizes may be necessary. In all cases, cohorts should be reduced to a maximum of 15 students at any time while physically distanced (2 metres). All students that choose the online option will be provided with a device if they do not have one. No one should have to pull their child out of school because they feel unsafe.
3. SARS-CoV-2 screening and testing systems for students, teachers, and staff are in place before school begins, as well as a detailed plan for management of sick day absences and suspected or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 cases identified in schools.
4. Sufficient social/physical distancing for all (2 metres) and PPE and physical barriers as needed for all teachers and staff. Non-medical masks are to be mandatory for all adults, teachers, staff, and students in Grades 4 through 12.
5. Safe and working ventilation and water systems in all schools. This includes windows that work properly and open in each classroom and in all schools and safe drinking water and working water systems in all schools.
6. Hourly scheduled hand hygiene for all classes, teachers, and staff, and a detailed plan for ongoing cleaning on school premises and within classrooms.
7. All large gatherings that cannot be appropriately physically distanced should be cancelled for the foreseeable future. This includes assemblies and band, music, singing, physical education, and sports.
8. A risk mitigation plan for students, teachers, and families at higher risk for severe disease and considerations and a contingency plan for children and youth with learning disabilities and any medical, physical, developmental and/or behavioural complexities.
9. Specific guidelines regarding staggered lunches, staggered recess, and staggered arrivals/departures along with special considerations for all those who are bussed to and from school.
10. A clear plan for regular communication with families, students, staff, and teachers throughout the year, starting with a detailed explanation to parents about implementing and administering safe back-to-school measures that follow public health guidelines. As new public health information emerges, the back-to-school plan should adapt and follow all up to date health guidelines for risk mitigation for SARS-CoV-2.
11. Enhanced safety and supervision throughout all schools. This will require the hiring of more teachers, substitute teachers, educational assistants, custodians, mental health supports, administration, and public health nurses.
12. Delay of the school start date until all these measures are clearly in place and communicated to all families, parents, students, teachers, and staff, at least two (2) weeks in advance of the proposed start date (if not more).
Several other provinces have taken the lead with plans to implement online/blended learning as well as other options that enhance and guarantee the success of safety measures. We can look to them as examples.
We have worked very hard to get where we are today following public health guidelines. It is essential to continue this approach as school reopens. We all want children to be back in school. We stand in full support of Nova Scotia teachers and staff. We want everyone to be safe, feel consulted, be cared for, and to be able to continue their employment and education, with confidence that Nova Scotia has done everything possible to protect them in this unprecedented time.

families, parents, students, and concerned citizens of Nova Scotia

[1] Federal Public Health guidelines K-12 back to school

[2] COVID19-Recommendations-for-School-Reopening-SickKids 

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